Flyers 4, Sabres 2

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – Simon Gagne had a goal and two assists Friday night, helping the Philadelphia Flyers clinch a playoff spot with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Robert Esche made 19 saves for Philadelphia, which closed within three points of the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers and Rangers each have six games left, with one game remaining between the clubs on April 15.

R.J. Umberger, Eric Desjardins, and Mike Knuble also scored for the Flyers, who trail fourth-place Buffalo by five points in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Tim Connolly and Ales Kotalik scored for Buffalo and Ryan Miller made 30 saves as the Sabres failed in their bid to sweep the season series from Philadelphia. Buffalo won three of the four meetings, with this loss breaking a seven-game home unbeaten streak against the Flyers.

If the teams remain in their current place in the standings, they would face each other in the first round of the playoffs with Buffalo holding home-ice advantage.

Umberger gave Philadelphia a 1-0 lead 1:32 into the game. Jeff Carter came down the left wing and dropped a pass to Umberger, who shot into the side of the net vacated by Miller.

Less than 9 minutes later, Gagne made it 2-0 when he fired a slap shot from the high slot with the puck on its end.

Connolly cut Buffalo’s deficit to 2-1 with a power-play goal 59 seconds into the second period. He faked three Flyers before flipping a backhand shot over Esche’s shoulder.

Philadelphia reclaimed its two-goal lead at 9:07, taking a 3-1 lead as Eric Desjardins scored on a slap shot from the right point.

With 1:02 left in the second period, Kotalik fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line. It was his 25th goal, tying him with Chris Drury for the Sabres’ lead and snapping his season-high, 12-game streak without a goal.

Buffalo’s best chance to tie it came with about 6:30 to go in the third period. Daniel Briere was beside the Flyers net and failed to connect on a crossing pass.

Knuble scored an insurance goal with 4:10 to play, as Miller was focused on Joni Pitkanen, who delivered a pass to Knuble for a shot into an open net.

Notes: Philadelphia played without forwards Peter Forsberg and Petr Nedved, who sat with groin injuries. … Ryan Potulny, the Flyers’ third-round draft pick in 2003, made his NHL debut. He played on a line with Donald Brashear and Brian Savage. Potulny signed with Philadelphia last week after finishing his college career at the University of Minnesota. … Philadelphia’s last win in Buffalo was April 8, 2001. The Flyers were 0-6-1 since then. … Buffalo trails Ottawa by eight points in the Northeast Division race. … Knuble extended his goal streak to three games.

AP-ES-04-07-06 2242EDT

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